Whale Watching from the Skies in Kaikoura

There are many ways to enjoy the wildlife encounters in New Zealand but “by plane” is not the first to spring to mind. We’re often trying to get the most intimate experiences with animals – how close can we get?! But with the largest species of animals on the planet, whales, perhaps it’s better to get a different perspective. We’re about to find out today by whale-spotting by plane in Kaikoura!

It’s a short drive from our accommodation, Dusky Lodge to the out-of-town Kaikoura Airport. We rock up to the base of Wings Over Whales, where the base is decorated in luxurious and simplistic wooden interior covering the walls. Instantly we are given that “luxury” feel but without the luxurious price tag. (Yep, this flight is only around NZ$180, which is pretty competitive with other activities in Kaikoura).

Introducing the world’s largest toothed predator!

We check in, weighing ourselves on the scales and all that fun stuff, then watch planes come in from the viewing balcony as we wait for our flight. There’s heaps of information around the airport about the ocean’s giants, but just a taster for what our pilot and guide, Edward, is about to show us.

Edward is gathering the five of us on the flight today and taking us to a briefing area to go over some quick safety stuff, as well as telling us more about what we are (highly) likely to see today. Kaikoura is famous for its abundance of sealife, from dolphins, seals and seabirds to – what we are all here for – whales! Edward holds up a poster of the world’s whales, every whale species but two have been seen in Kaikoura’s waters! However, Kaikoura is pretty special because you can see sperm whales here all year round.

Learning about the whales of the Kaikoura Canyon Learning about the whales of the Kaikoura Canyon
Prepare for departure into the skies! Prepare for departure into the skies!
A unique view of the full length of a whale! A unique view of the full length of a whale!
A couple of nerdy whale watchers A couple of nerdy whale watchers

The fascinating sperm whale

Taking the time to go through what the hell is a sperm whale before the trip is something we are actually quite appreciating. As you probably know, us humans are pretty bad at retaining information when wildlife is around, so it’s great to learn about how awesome these ocean giants are before we go out to see them.

With the aid of a cut-away 3D model showing the geography of the Kaikoura Canyon, Edward tells us why this ocean trench so close the shore of Kaikoura attracts an incredible amount of sealife. He also uses a video (and some cute little whale models) to show us the unique and fascinating way sperm whales stun their prey.

Boarding our whale flight

With our brains feeling as big as a sperm whale – and sperm whales have the largest brain in the world, something else we learned, we strap on some fold-up life jackets, and head on out to the small aircraft. Edward points us towards our seats and there’s nothing left for us to do than put on our seatbelt, make sure our cameras have enough battery (should have checked that before now, really), and enjoy the ride.

Our first sighting of a sperm whale!

Eyes peeled for whales

The flight starts with ascending over a stunning black-sand beach. The birds-eye-views makes the brilliant blue waves turning into waves crashing on the sand look simply epic.

Once high enough, while still low enough to clearly see the features of the landscape below, we fly out to sea. Now we need to keep our eyes peeled for whales. After all, Edward did say he would buy an ice cream for whoever could spot a whale first. Notice how it isn’t exactly a million bucks though… He can’t be that confident! Nevertheless, within minutes he is slowing down the aircraft. There it is!!! A sperm whale!

A unique perspective of the whales

As we circle around 150m above, we can see the entire length of the whale. It’s whole behaviour can be seen from this awesome viewpoint, rising to release vast spray from its blowhole before dipping shallowly back into the water. Despite its obvious size, its difficult to grasp perspective with the whale surrounded by ocean.

That diving moment!

“Watch it, it’s going to dive!” Edward calls from the pilot seat. Sure enough, its enormous tail slowly rises into the air for its dive into the deep where it will stay fishing for the next 30 minutes or so. It’s the moment every whale-watcher craves and we got to see it from the sky!

So much to snap up! So much to snap up!
A sperm whale glistening in the sun A sperm whale glistening in the sun
The rugged coast of the Kaikoura Peninsula The rugged coast of the Kaikoura Peninsula

Asleep at the “whale”

That’s not the only whale we encounter today with three more beautiful whales to snap up and get an incredible view of. The way the plane circles the whale from above makes the whole experience look like an action scene from a movie, especially with the sunlight glistening on the whale as we turn. In fact, one whale would just be too easy to film as we find out after a couple of minutes that it is actually asleep on the surface. Perfect viewing!

The dusky dolphin search

As we head back to the shore, Edward is keen to take the plane over some dusky dolphins. As we saw yesterday, this dolphin species also famous in Kaikoura are known for travelling in pods of 100-1000 individuals! How amazing would that view be from above?! Unfortunately, that is a question we will keep asking ourselves, because we do not find the dolphins today. Did we tell you about the whales, though?!

Back down to earth

Coming back to the airport, we fly over the golden hills and rugged rocky coastline of the Kaikoura Peninsula. It’s shape almost looks like a whale’s tail from up here… Almost!

After a smooth landing, everyone is keen to have their last photo taken with the plane before we all move onto our next adventure. For us, we’re going out on the water tomorrow to see more giants of the sea, the wild albatross! Join us then!

Laura and Robin

Snapping up the stunning views of the Kaikoura Peninsula
Snapping up the stunning views of the Kaikoura Peninsula Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Want more?

Have you read the yesterday’s post about swimming with dusky dolphins? How about these articles:

Until tomorrow’s blog post, check us out on the HerePin app to meet other travellers in your area. We also post travel tips for New Zealand on Facebook, as well as our adventure on Instagram. Join the Facebook Group to find people to travel with, ask us questions, and buy/sell.

See you tomorrow!

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Comments
  1. Awesome post, I had only heard of whale watching by boat before.

    Comment avatar coline
    03/03/2017 at 3:42 pm
  2. I’m curious to find out how the whales rest while still swimming

    Comment avatar fino
    03/03/2017 at 11:58 pm
  3. Having read this I thought it was extremely informative. I appreciate you finding the time and energy to put this short article together. I once again find myself personally spending over 2 hours both reading and leaving comments. But so what, it was still worthwhile!

    Comment avatar lisa
    04/03/2017 at 1:38 pm
  4. Everyone loves what you guys are usually up too. Such clever work and coverage! Keep up the fantastic works guys I’ve added you guys to my favs’.

    Comment avatar Ernest G
    19/09/2017 at 3:15 pm
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